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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Aile de Raie, Raie – Skate, the Fish on French Menus

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Aile de Raie, Raie, Flotte, Pocheteau – Skate, Blue Skate. 

Common skate are known to exceed 180 Kg (400 lbs) in weight! The average common skate weighs around 20.40 Kg (45 lbs).

Why skate is rarely cooked at home.

Skate is a French fish restaurant favorite; it has a firm, tender flesh with a clear flavor and light off-white color. Skate is practically never prepared in French homes because it needs to be served as soon as it is cooked. If the fish cools, the flesh begins to gel, and in most home kitchens it is practically impossible to prepare four or possibly more filets for serving at the same time. The home cook also needs a fishmonger who will remove the skin on both sides; the upper side has the touch and feel of skate’s cousin the shark. Only skate wings, are sold as there is no meat on the body, the fishmonger will divide them up as required; he or she knows that few customers will buy a whole 6 kilo (13lb) skate wing.

French chefs love skate.
French chefs also like skate, especially when the fish are relatively small, and the filets may be served as beautiful semicircles or half semi-circles that impress the diners. The filets come from the wings of the fish that apart from the cheeks are the only parts that are eaten. Skate will be served in France’s finest restaurants where it may be baked, poached or sautéed with the preferred recipes made with butter and butter sauces.

A breaded and fried skate filet.
Eating skate.

There are two sides to a skate filet, and the diner eats all the meat on one side and then turns the filet over to reach the flesh on the other side. The material that separates the two sides of the filet looks somewhat like a comb, but It is not made of bone, it is cartilage. That cartilage makes the skate’s wings flexible and allows them to glide through the water. 

Skate cheeks.
Joue de raie, skate cheeks, are on more menus as this delicacy becomes better known; some food writers claim the cheeks have a taste similar to scallops.  They certainly have a different flavor and texture to the filet, but I did not think they taste like scallops.  I also found a menu listing where the skate cheeks are offered together with scallops as contrasting tastes.
Skate on French menus:

Aile de Raie au Beurre Noir - Skate wing, the filet served with a black butter sauce.  Black butter is made by slowly cooking butter until it changes to a dark brown color, not black; it has a strong, but not burned, taste. Black butter is the classic skate sauce and is often prepared with added capers and or parsely.

Skate with capers.
Aile de Raie Façon Grenobloise, Pommes Vapeur – Skate wing prepared in a Sauce Grenobloise and served with steamed potatoes. Sauce Grenobloise is a clarified butter sauce made with lemon and capers and almost always used for fish; it originated in the city of Grenoble in South Eastern France. Grenoble is famous for many things and in the food world this sauce and the Noix de Grenoble AOP, the Grenoble Walnuts AOC/AOP stand out.
Clarified butter is made by melting the butter and removing those components that rise to the surface as well as the solids that fall to the bottom. The resulting butter has unique taste qualities and allows the chef to cook at a higher temperature than does regular butter.
Skate with lemon sauce.
Brochette de Joue de Raie et St-Jacques au Lait de Noix de Coco, Riz Sauvage à l'Anis – A skewer of grilled skate cheeks and the meat of the king scallop flavored with coconut milk and served with wild rice flavored with aniseed. Wild rice with its long black seeds looks something like elongated black rice but they are, in fact, are the seed of an aquatic grass. The taste of wild rice is pleasant and slightly nutty, the texture is slightly chewy.  When served mixed with white rice it makes the dish more visually engaging. Serving skate cheeks and scallops together allows all diners to decide if these two flavorsome products from the salt water world have the same taste and texture. 
Raie aux Câpres et Beurre Noisette - Skate prepared with capers in a brown butter sauce. Noisettes are hazelnuts, and here the butter is melted until its color resembles the color of hazelnuts along with a slightly nutty flavor.

Skate with a mustard sauce.
Raie Pochées au Beurre Blanc - Skate wing poached and then served in a white butter sauce. White butter sauce, also called Beurre Nantaise is one of France’s favorite sauces served with fish, seafood or vegetable dishes. The sauce is made with butter, a dry white wine like a Chablis AOC, lemon, and shallots. The city of Nantes gave this sauce one of its names, and it is the regional capital of the department of Loire-Atlantique department in the Pays de la Loire. Nantes sits astride the River Loire where it reaches to the Atlantic Ocean.

Skate is also a popular fish in the UK especially when it is deep fried in a beer flavored batter, and it becomes one of the wonders of a UK Fish and Chip restaurant.
Fish and chips in the UK.
Straight to the chippie from the boats in the harbor.

Skate is relative of rays and sharks and sharks, and apart from its wings and cheeks that will be on French menus, I was told that that skate liver is a delicacy in Japan. In France, I have only seen skate liver sold as skate liver oil.
Skate in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan -  caputxa), (Dutch - vleet),(German - glattrochen), (Italian - razza bavosa),  (Spanish – noriega, raya noruega ), (Latin - dipturus batis).
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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
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